Translating creativity into action
Many companies used to treat creativity the way cooks treat cayenne pepper - a little bit mixed into a work force added some zip, but you certainly didn't want a great big corporation full of it. In the competitive frenzy of the dot-com business environment, however, creativity has become one of a company's most valuable assets.
When you think about it, creativity is really both the production process and the product for many new Internet organizations, which means they need a steady and dependable supply of creative thinking on a very regular basis. Traditional companies, whose profits have come from leveraging more tangible assets, are also feeling the creative heat as they struggle to reinvent and revitalize their organizations to keep pace with those speedy e-newcomers to the marketplace.
Enter the creativity consultants, a whole new breed of business folks dedicated to making managers and their employees more creative, whatever it takes. For a fee, work teams are rock-climbing, skydiving, rafting, and Rolfing together in an effort to stimulate new ways of thinking. They are getting in touch with their inner children, their night-brains, and the brains they left behind.
In one London school, for instance, would-be leaders learn to "get in touch with their inner clowns" as part of a course that uses theatrical techniques to help turn "boring" followers into charismatic leaders. At a dance studio in NewYork, managers move to modern jazz to loosen their creative muscles. A business blues band enables change by having managers write and perform their own blues ballads - all about the miseries of their jobs.
It is a far cry indeed from acetate overheads on the Seven Habits, or the 22 Laws, or the 12 Steps to Success. But does it work? Will climbing mountains or singing songs together make your fleet managers and employees more creative, your company more competitive?
Well, maybe. Particularly in the trucking industry, however, it is worth remembering that people have been creating and innovating for decades, long before there was an e-anything. Consider Charles Goodyear's 1839 discovery of how to vulcanize rubber or Gottlieb Daimler's 1883 high-speed internal combustion engine, not to mention things like modern truck aerodynamics, electronics, or GPS.
How did these innovators do it? And without creativity consultants either? Maybe unleashing more creativity does not require changing workers as much as altering workplaces to make it easier to do new things, to implement new ideas.
"Advocates of knowledge management as the next big thing...are forgetting that knowledge is only useful if you do something with it," noted Jeffery Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Fast Company, June 2000). "It is much easier and much safer to sit around and have intellectual conversations...and never actually implement anything. Compare all of this knowing with the good old Yankee ingenuity of the past."
Good old ingenuity, the application of creativity to work, is the shirt-sleeves kind of creativity that built the trucking industry, and drives it still today. It is energetic, optimistic, and highly contagious. It begins with ideas, but its objectives are all action, all doing. And there's plenty of work to be done.
So instead of worrying about having enough creativity, maybe it makes good sense to first make sure that we have structured companies and organizations where good ideas can readily connect with the tasks at hand. Then, instead of heading off to creativity camp, we can get right to work - creating the trucking industry of tomorrow.